TALLAHASSEE -- A strain of low-potency marijuana would be legal in Florida to treat epilepsy and cancer patients under a bill passed by the Legislature on Friday.
The measure -- met with skepticism when first proposed -- passed with strong support in both chambers after lawmakers heard stories of children suffering from seizures who could be helped by the marijuana strain, known as Charlotte's Web.
The bill passed the Senate 30-9 Friday, a day after the House supported it 111-7. Gov. Rick Scott has said he'll sign it.
Bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley said months ago that he would have been the last person in the chamber to support it because as a former prosecutor he takes tough positions on drugs. Then he researched the issue and heard stories of children it's helped and said he couldn't say no.
"I looked at my daughter and said, `How can I not do this?"' Bradley, R-Orange Park, said. "If I come over here to be compassionate toward my fellow man, to be compassionate toward the children that we try to protect with so many things that we've done, what kind of message would I be sending to my child if I simply said, `You know what? This would be too risky politically."'
RayAnn Moseley, an 11-year-old girl who has up to 300 seizures a week, is part of what swayed Bradley. Her parents, Peyton and Holley Moseley, have been fighting to get the bill passed, and Bradley said he has kept a photo of the girl on his desk since meeting her father.
"I'm looking forward to the day RayAnn gets to take her first treatment and to next year to be able to come back and brag and say `Oh my goodness! Look at her now!' " Holley Mosely said. "It makes me proud for her. She's changing Florida law. She's making history here."
After the vote, RayAnn gave key lawmakers paintings she made of the sun shining and the words "RAY OF HOPE."
The bill puts strong restrictions on the use of the drug. It can have no more than 0.8 percent THC, the chemical that makes users feel high. On average, marijuana has about 15 percent THC, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The strain has normal levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, which is used to treat seizures.
Also, people would not be able to just walk into a doctor's office and get a prescription. Only doctors have who have been providing ongoing treatment of a patient can prescribe it, and only as a last resort if other treatments aren't effective.
The state would maintain a registry of eligible patients. The marijuana can't be smoked and would be converted into an oil. Only four dispensaries would be allowed in the state, and they would be highly regulated. And only nurseries that have existed in the state for 30 years could grow it, a provision that concerned lawmakers because it would severely limit the number of potential growers.
Republican Senate President Don Gaetz said he was skeptical of the idea at first, but he voted for it Friday.
"Those who changed hearts were the parents and children who came here and camped out here and were so self-effacing, so undemanding, but so persuasive and so eloquent in their suffering," said Gaetz, whose son Rep. Matt Gaetz sponsored the House bill.
"I'm proud of my son for having the political courage and the human compassion to champion this issue," Gaetz said.